Top tips for mountain and hill walking
Great Britain’s mountains and hills are a wonderful places to make walking memories
Our top tips for safe and enjoyable mountain and hill walks
Great Britain is blessed with diverse mountain landscapes that offer amazing opportunities for challenging walks in areas such as North Wales, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.
With a range of landscapes and very changeable weather it’s vital that you have the skills, experience and ability to ensure your walk is memorable for the right reasons.
In particular walking up mountains in snowy or icy conditions is more serious and requires extra skills and equipment.
Flexible planning for a good hill walk
Rather than choosing a set route a long way in advance, be flexible and have a plan B (or C!) ready just in case. Ask yourself three questions to ensure it’s suitable and enjoyable for everyone in your group:
Have we fully considered the weather forecast?
Do we have the correct clothing and kit?
Do we have the right knowledge, skills and ability for this walk?
If you can’t answer yes to all these questions then choose an easier route or wait for the weather to improve.
Before setting off, share your route and expected finishing time with a reliable person. Tell them when you’re safely down. Downloading the free OS Locate app before you go means you will always have quick access to a grid reference. Signal is often poor in the mountains so it’s worth registering your phone to text emergency services in advance. Simply text 'register' to 999 and follow the prompts.
Consider the weather forecast
On Great Britain’s hills and mountains you can experience ‘four seasons in one day’. It might be shorts weather when you set off but raining or even snowing on the summit. Carefully consider how the weather might affect your route, equipment and walkers in your group.
You might be able to navigate effectively in good visibility, but can you navigate in poor visibility without your phone? If the answer is no, try plan B and take some time to gain more navigation skills.
If you’re lucky enough to have a hot and sunny forecast, wear a hat and carry plenty of water and sunscreen. We have further top tips for summer walking.
Pay close attention to wind direction and speed. When possible, you may be able to plan ahead to enjoy a tailwind during the highest sections of your walk. Winds from the north and east will often feel colder and wind speeds of more than 40mph will make walking more difficult.
Britain’s mountains get much more rainfall than the lowlands. As well as making you cold, and wet, heavy rain or rapidly thawing snow can make river crossings difficult or even impossible, so pay attention to rising water levels.
You will need comfortable footwear with good grip and suitable support. For most people this will mean hillwalking boots or hiking shoes.
Forecasts can be wrong and even on dry summer days, the wind may feel chilly when up high.
One way to stay comfortable is layering: adding or removing clothing in response to the weather. We recommend having a wicking base layer that is quick drying and light when wet, a couple of warm mid-layers (like a fleece) and a waterproof coat.
Always pack extra layers, including a hat and gloves and a neck buff, for when you stop for lunch or in an emergency. You will may also want to carry waterproof trousers, in case it gets wet and as an extra warm and windproof layer. Check out the Walking Gear section of our website, which has buyer’s guides for boots, trousers, walking poles, and trousers, as well as tips on caring for your boots and waterproof clothing.
Walking up hills burns a lot of calories. If you don’t fuel your body and stay hydrated, you’re more likely to trip or slip and decision making becomes more difficult.
Carry energy-rich food and snacks like mint cake, nuts and dried fruit. Throw in a little extra, just in case. Take a look at our feature on food hacks to make your walk even better.
As well as the standard equipment for country walks, for hill and mountain walks we advise you to also carry:
A survival bag
A headtorch and spare batteries
A fully charged mobile phone (and perhaps a back-up battery), kept on flight mode to save battery
An emergency whistle
Spare clothing to be self-sufficient in an emergency
A small personal first aid kit
It is wise to also carry a ‘bothy bag’, a lightweight group shelter that helps you stay dry and get warm.
Mountain walking knowledge, skills and ability
Carefully consider if you have the skills and experience for your route, especially when you are new to mountain walking.
This includes being able to navigate using a map, compass and possibly also an electronic navigation device. Consider learning from experienced friends or specialist training to build these and other mountain walking skills. If you're walking in a group, ask others to help you learn the basics of how to navigate
You should also be able to use a map and compass to answer the “5Ds” to walk safely between points on the map:
Distance - How far is it?
Duration - How long will it take?
Direction - Which direction do you need to head off in?
Description - What will you see?
Destination - What will you see when you get there?
Even experienced walkers should continually assess, refresh and improve their skills.
Always consider the needs of the least experienced and most tired walkers in your group.
Build shorter ‘escape’ routes into your plan and cut the walk short if you need to. In the case of an emergency, call 999 and ask for police, then mountain rescue. You could also try to attract attention by sounding the international distress signal: six loud blasts of a whistle or flashes of a torch, repeated at one-minute intervals.
Outdoor instructor Lucy Wallace explains how to make your winter hillwalking adventures safe and enjoyable.
Looking for new walking gear? Get independent, expert advice on everything from walking boots to waterproof jackets.